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The Good Samaritan: Monetary Aspects
Rabbi Aaron Kirschenbaum

Religion and Law

The personal, religious nature of the duty that one has to rescue has led at least one later medieval authority to limit the rescuer's right to recover the losses he incurred in the course of his rescue operation in a number of ways.

  1. The rescued party must, it is true, compensate his rescuer for his losses. But if the former is bankrupt, he need not make said compensation, even if he subsequently comes into a fortune. 36
  2. The rescuer's right to be compensated for his losses exists only if the rescue operation is successful. If he failed in his attempt, his right for compensation is, at most, that of a minimum wage for labor expended.37
  3. The obligation to compensate the rescuer for his losses devolves upon the rescued party himself and upon no one else, not even his close relatives.38

It is relevant to note that these three limiting rulings were not regarded as discouraging bystanders to do their duty. On the contrary, the very reasoning behind them is: "for the reason [that the bystander] is going to such lengths, even to the extent of incurring monetary losses, is not that he is doing so in behalf of his fellow [who is in peril] exclusively, but rather he is also doing so in his own behalf, to save himself [i.e.] to discharge the obligation placed upon him by [the Holy One], may He be blessed. Moreover, his [heavenly] reward is a very great one indeed." 39

A final thought. The halacha makes no special provision for the bystander who is disabled as a result of his rescue attempt or for his dependents if he dies in that attempt. Traditional Jewish society had its established ways of caring for the crippled, for widows and for orphans. The welfare state has its ways. Would it not be proper for halachic leaders to press for special provisions whereby the community would regard these dependents as entitled to specific benefits?40 (Special provisions under the National Insurance Administration, Hamossad Levituah Leumi, in Israel, for example, could be one possibility.)41

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